Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Alvin Greene Story - Biggest Election Story of 2010?

After Tuesday's election results, the most curious story for me is the victory of Al Greene in the Democratic Senate race in South Carolina.  When I saw a video of him talking to the press the bells and whistles really began to go off.  Here's yet another video.

Was this guy for real?  What were the Democrats doing during the campaign?  How come all this comes out only after the election?   How could an inarticulate candidate nobody knows, who didn't campaign, beat a well funded party backed candidate?  It's pretty remarkable.  There's a bigger story there one way or the other.  Either there's some monkey business or there's a new lesson to be learned.  But given Greene's dreadful presence on tape, the former seems more likely than the latter.

I was puzzled by the lack of attention it got compared to stories about California's rich women execs or Arkansas' Governor's race, or even the other South Carolina race.  Maybe these got more attention immediately post election because these were the ones that had been hyped the most pre-election. 

The media were looking the other way, so they weren't ready for the Greene story, but I suspect it will turn out to be one of the biggest.  It has Watergate writ small all over it.  I know, every hint of political scandal is compared to Watergate, but this potentially about political sabotage by the other party just like Watergate. 

My first questions were:

1.  How does an unknown, inarticulate, black candidate with no political history and no campaign expenditures knock off a white judge in a conservative southern state in a US Senate primary?  (According to Wikipedia, in 2000 the state was 62% white, 29% black.  Presumably a larger percent of registered Democrats are black than the state population.)

2.  Why didn't his obvious weaknesses, not to mention the pending felony charge, come out during the primary campaign?

So I started looking around.

A TPM story June 10 says there are two more odd cases of black candidates running for office in South Carolina in Democratic primaries with no party support and no financial disclosures.  One lost (Gregory Brown who ran against sitting black Democratic Representative and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn), but the other, like Greene, won too.
In the third race that Clyburn calls suspicious, the 1st Congressional District, Frasier won even though the establishment-favored candidate, Robert Burton, raised and spent $100,000. Frasier's campaign didn't file any details about his spending with the FEC. But he's far from a first-time candidate, having run nearly three dozen times -- and losing -- for elected office. Frasier has run as a candidate for both parties, and has even been accused of being a Republican plant and not qualified to be a candidate in the past, according to local press accounts.
Frasier doesn't have a campaign Website or Facebook page we could find, but Frasier beat Burton by about 2,200 votes or 56%-44%.

So people are accusing the three of being Republican plants.  Theoretically that shouldn't matter.  Primary voters should be able to see through the ruse and not elect them.  Except the South Carolina primary is an open primary.  Republicans could vote in the Democratic primary.  So far, though, I haven't seen any documentation of pushing Republicans to vote for these candidates - letters, emails, etc.  Surely if this were a significant factor, there'd be some documented evidence.  Maybe it will come out yet.

But down in South Carolina, Jennifer, at Indigo Journal, a self proclaimed progressive blog* (hey, this is South Carolina, who knows?  it says:
Founded in 2008 by Tim Kelly and Jennifer Read, IJ is a news, analysis and action website dedicated to building a strong progressive community in the reliably red Palmetto State*)
suggested on June 11 that there was not a Republican conspiracy:
While national pundits and activists foam over the possibility of some nefarious GOP plot at work here in the Palmetto State (a scenario I find weak at best), the real question S.C. Democrats should focus on is why didn’t their front-runners mount more sophisticated campaigns?

Today, June 14, Jennifer, has posted losing Democratic Primary candidate Judge Vic Rawl's statement calling for an investigation into the election which he says are riddled with irregularities.
  • First is ongoing analysis of the election returns themselves, which indicate irregularities.
  • Second are the many voters and poll workers who continue to contact us with their stories of extremely unusual incidents while trying to vote and administer this election.

    These range from voters who repeatedly pressed the screen for me only to have the other candidate’s name appear, to poll workers who had to change program cards multiple times, to at least one voter in the Republican primary who had the Democratic U.S. Senate race appear on her ballot. . .
  • Third is the well-documented unreliability and unverifiability of the voting machines used in South Carolina.  It is worth noting that these machines were purchased surplus from Louisiana after that state outlawed them.
[Update June 15 from the Atlantic:
South Carolina's Election Commission says it's confident its voting system are reliable, and Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire rebuffed the claim by Vic Rawl (whom Greene defeated in the primary with over 100,00 votes, just under 60%) that South Carolina purchased its machines second-hand from Louisiana after the state stopped using them. South Carolina bought its machines directly from ES&S, Whitmire said.]

But Jennifer, while acknowledging possible election problems, still chastises the Dems:
According to the Rawl campaign, there are too many irregularities in Tuesday night’s results to let the election go uncontested. Fair enough. Let’s do some due diligence digging. But I still say, had Team Rawl stepped up their communications game prior to primary day, we wouldn’t be dealing with this drama. Case in point: we’ve received more press releases from the Rawl campaign in the last 5 days than we did during the entire primary season. Just sayin’.
However, Tim, also at Indigo Journal, writes in a later post today trying to figure this out by following the money in the Brown campaign (the person who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Clyburn.
Brown’s campaign was run by Preston Grisham – a longtime aide and former campaign manager for, you guessed it, Joe Wilson. [Steve:  You remember the guy who interrupted Obama's speech before the joint House and Senate by shouting out, "You lie"?]
Brown’s disclosure forms (here, here and here) show he paid Grisham’s consulting firm more than $23,000.
The truly perplexing thing, though, is just where Brown got this money – or any of the $54,000 he spent on his campaign. As of his latest filing, Brown reported raising a grand total of $830. He ended his campaign last Tuesday with a deficit of over $53,000.
“Say Joe Wilson and a group of well-heeled Republicans cook up a scheme to cause Clyburn to have to spend his cash and to “help” the Democrats nominate a Senate candidate that can be hung around the whole fall Dem ticket’s neck,” said a source we spoke with this afternoon.
“On March 1, Brown’s campaign cuts Joe Wilson’s former campaign manager a check for $12,500 for marketing,” our source continued. “We don’t know what the hell kind of “marketing” Preston Grisham provided Brown, but we do know that shortly thereafter, an unemployed Alvin Greene has $10,400 for a filing fee to run for the U.S. Senate.”
As I said, it’s a stretch to take this all the way to Alvin Greene. But we do now have not one, but two, Democratic primary candidates who haven’t disclosed where thousands of dollars in campaign cash came from, and we have Joe Wilson’s – and/or elephant poop – all over one of those candidates.
I did find that in a 2008 campaign, Ben Frasier's South Carolina residency was challenged on the grounds that
that Frasier has a home and several businesses in Maryland and far fewer legal ties to his purported home on Wadmalaw Island.
but the County Board of Elections and Voter Registration determined he's a resident.

So, there are some facts, but a lot more speculation at this point.  But I also remember hearing about some burglars at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building.  That's all it was at first, a petty burglary.   It took a long time before people believed that Nixon was connected to that.

Let's go back to my initial questions and see where we are.

1.  How does an unknown, black candidate with no campaign expenditures knock off a white US Representative in a conservative southern state?  Possible answers:
  • The white Dems didn't campaign, according to Jennifer
  • There were serious voting irregularities with second hand voting machines
And after writing all this I have more questions on this:
  1. In the House upset, what is the racial make up of the House District?  Was it majority black so that a black candidate against an unknown white candidate could win?  Jennifer says that in the last couple of days there were high profile tv ads so voters could see he was black.
  2. In the US Senate race, could the voters have voted for Al Greene because they associated his name with gospel and soul singer Al Green?
2.  Why didn't Al Greene's obvious weaknesses, not to mention the pending felony charge come out during the primary campaign?
  • Jennifer suggests that the party backed Democratic candidates didn't take their opponents seriously and simply didn't campaign.  This isn't too unusual when someone has a fringe candidate or two running against them.  They want to save their money to campaign in the general election.  
  • I looked back through the Indigo Journal posts to March and didn't really see any coverage of Greene, Brown, or Frasier here either.   There was one post "Trouble for Demint"  that had a quote that listed Vic Rawl as "Democratic Challenger," with no mention of Greene.  The quote mentioned that Rawl hadn't done any advertising - but the implication seemed to be that his polling numbers against Demint were that high even though he hadn't started to campaign.  There was no comment about him needing to campaign. This wasn't a post by Jennifer.   But, to be fair, it seems that Jennifer wasn't posting much earlier.
So it will be interesting to see where Gregory Brown got the $52,000 he's supposed to have spent when he only raised $850.  And where Al Greene got his $10,000 filing fee.  And where Fraser got the money for his television ads.

*As an Alaskan blogger who was pigeon-hoed by non-Alaskans right after Sarah Palin's VP nomination, I don't want to perpetuate that sort of silliness.  I just wanted to point out that I first saw Indigo Journal today and have to judge by what they say about themselves and what they write.  But given the story was about a suspected phony Democrats, I couldn't resist the dig.  Their posts seem legitimately progressive to me.

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